12 Books Published by University Press of Kentucky on AALBC — Book Cover Collage

Click for more detail about Heartwood (Expanded) by Nikky Finney Heartwood (Expanded)

by Nikky Finney
University Press of Kentucky (Sep 14, 2021)
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When Trina Sims and Jenny Bryan first meet, they don’t relate well to each other. Jenny is troubled, struggling to escape personal demons, and somewhat closed-minded, the result of growing up in a racist town. Trina is a proud Black woman — ambitious, strong-willed, and unafraid to speak her mind. But after the pair spend a few days together, they soon realize that they’re both yearning for understanding and a fresh start and are, at heart, more alike than different.

At the center of every tree can be found the heartwood — the very soul of the tree. And at the heart of this illuminating novel are characters with more complexities and contradictions than appear on the surface. Members of a rural Kentucky community, their lives are loosely connected through chance encounters, and yet somehow deeply intertwined. This captivating story by National Book Award-winning author Nikky Finney is filled with the sights and sounds and hopes and hurts of a land and its people. Some are burdened with racist attitudes, anger, and fear, while others strive to see the good in their neighbors.

This “tiny little book about the human heart and what it can do” was first released 25 years ago as part of New Books for New Readers, a series designed for adult literacy students. In this expanded anniversary edition, with a new preface by Finney, all readers will find lessons about life and understanding, and the encouragement to live audaciously while acknowledging the goodness that is all around us — if we only strive to recognize and embrace it.

Click for more detail about Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson Perfect Black

by Crystal Wilkinson
University Press of Kentucky (Aug 03, 2021)
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Perfect Black is the long-awaited first poetry volume from the acclaimed Affrilachian novelist, Crystal Wilkinson. Collecting poems that were written across two decades, Perfect Black tells the story of one woman’s Kentucky life, a hymn to how Wilkinson emerged from a rural girlhood to build a transformative legacy of activism and artistry. As the poet remembers and survives traumas like sexual assault, mother-loss, and racism, she also reminds the reader that by staying close to her roots, and the land in which they grow, a woman can learn how to do more than survive, she can come out singing, she can thrive. Perfect Black is not just a compelling book of poetry, it is the inspiring memoir-in-verse of the writer who became the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s first African-American woman to be named Poet Laureate.

—Rebecca Gayle Howell, author of American Purgatory

Click for more detail about Mend: Poems by Kwoya Fagin Maples Mend: Poems

by Kwoya Fagin Maples
University Press of Kentucky (Sep 26, 2018)
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The inventor of the speculum, J. Marion Sims, is celebrated as the "father of modern gynecology," and a memorial at his birthplace honors "his service to suffering women, empress and slave alike." These tributes whitewash the fact that Sims achieved his surgical breakthroughs by experimenting on eleven enslaved African American women. Lent to Sims by their owners, these women were forced to undergo operations without their consent. Today, the names of all but three of these women are lost.

In Mend: Poems, Kwoya Fagin Maples gives voice to the enslaved women named in Sims’s autobiography: Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. In poems exploring imagined memories and experiences relayed from hospital beds, the speakers challenge Sims’s lies, mourn their trampled dignity, name their suffering in spirit, and speak of their bodies as "bruised fruit." At the same time, they are more than his victims, and the poems celebrate their humanity, their feelings, their memories, and their selves. A finalist for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, this debut collection illuminates a complex and disturbing chapter of the African American experience.

Click for more detail about Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson Water Street

by Crystal Wilkinson
University Press of Kentucky (Feb 24, 2017)
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Featuring a new foreword, by Jacinda Townsend and a new afterword which illuminate Wilkinson’s artistic achievement, this captivating work is poised to delight a new generation of readers.

On Water Street, every person has at least two stories to tell. One story that the light of day shines on and the other that lives only in the pitch black of night, the kind of story that a person carries beneath their breastbones for safekeeping. Water Street examines the secret lives of neighbors and friends who live on Water Street in a small town in Kentucky. Assured and intimate, Wilkinson weaves us in and out of the lives of Water Street’s inhabitants, dealing with love, loss, truth and tragedy, as the narration switches from person to person and their remarkable, varied and authentic voices are revealed under Wilkinson’s sure hand. This is a superb, cohesive work which marks Ms. Wilkinson’s evolution as a gifted observer and writer.

Book Review

Click for more detail about Blackberries, Blackberries by Crystal Wilkinson Blackberries, Blackberries

by Crystal Wilkinson
University Press of Kentucky (Feb 24, 2017)
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Infused with humor, sadness and honesty, this provocative and haunting work features a new foreword and a new afterword by nationally acclaimed authors Nikky Finney and Honorée Jeffers.

An enchanting, haunting collection of stories by Crystal Wilkinson, a self-described Black, country girl and poet from rural Kentucky. The stories explore the joys and pain of the women of "Affrilachia", and will touch the reader profoundly. "I grew up on a farm in Indian Creek, Kentucky during the seventies. I swam in creeks and roamed the knobs and hills. We had an outhouse and no inside running water. Our house was heated by coal and wood-burning stoves and we lived so far back in the woods that we could get only one television station. But it was a place of beauty - trees, green grass and blue sky as far as you could see. I am country. Being country is as much a part of me as my full lips, wide hips, dreadlocks and high cheek bones. There are many Black country folks who have lived and are living in small towns, up hollers and across knobs. They are all over the South—scattered like milk thistle seeds in the wind. The stories in this book are centered in these places.” - CRYSTAL E. WILKINSON

Click for more detail about Insurrections: Stories by Rion Amilcar Scott Insurrections: Stories

by Rion Amilcar Scott
University Press of Kentucky (Jul 01, 2016)
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A suicidal father looks to an older neighbor?and the Cookie Monster?for salvation and sanctuary as his life begins to unravel. A man seeking to save his estranged, drug-addicted brother from the city’s underbelly confronts his own mortality. A chess match between a girl and her father turns into a master class about life, self-realization, and pride: "Now hold on little girl… . Chess is like real life. The white pieces go first so they got an advantage over the black pieces."

These are just a few glimpses into the world of the residents of the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, a largely black settlement founded in 1807 after the only successful slave revolt in the United States. Raw, edgy, and unrelenting yet infused with forgiveness, redemption, and humor, the stories in this collection explore characters suffering the quiet tragedies of everyday life and fighting for survival.

In Insurrections, Rion Amilcar Scott’s lyrical prose authentically portrays individuals growing up and growing old in an African American community. Writing with a delivery and dialect that are intense and unapologetically current, Scott presents characters who dare to make their own choices?choices of kindness or cruelty?in the depths of darkness and hopelessness. Although Cross River’s residents may be halted or deterred in their search for fulfillment, their spirits remain resilient?always evolving and constantly moving.

Click for more detail about The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson The Birds of Opulence

by Crystal Wilkinson
University Press of Kentucky (Mar 07, 2016)
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From the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street comes an astonishing new novel. A lyrical exploration of love and loss, The Birds of Opulence centers on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness.

The Goode-Brown family, led by matriarch and pillar of the community Minnie Mae, is plagued by old secrets and embarrassment over mental illness and illegitimacy. Meanwhile, single mother Francine Clark is haunted by her dead, lightning-struck husband and forced to fight against both the moral judgment of the community and her own rebellious daughter, Mona. The residents of Opulence struggle with vexing relationships to the land, to one another, and to their own sexuality. As the members of the youngest generation watch their mothers and grandmothers pass away, they live with the fear of going mad themselves and must fight to survive.

Crystal Wilkinson offers up Opulence and its people in lush, poetic detail. It is a world of magic, conjuring, signs, and spells, but also of harsh realities that only love—and love that’s handed down—can conquer. At once tragic and hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own.

Click for more detail about James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement by Sara Rzeszutek (James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson) James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement

by Sara Rzeszutek (James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson)
University Press of Kentucky (Nov 06, 2015)
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James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson grew up understanding that opportunities came differently for blacks and whites, men and women, rich and poor. In turn, they devoted their lives to the fight for equality, serving as career activists throughout the Black freedom movement. Having grown up in Virginia during the depths of the Great Depression, the Jacksons also saw a path to racial equality through the Communist Party. This choice in political affiliation would come to shape and define not only their participation in the black freedom movement but also the course of their own marriage as the Cold War years unfolded.

In this dual biography, Sara Rzeszutek examines the couple’s political involvement as well as the evolution of their personal and public lives in the face of ever-shifting contexts. She documents the Jacksons’ significant contributions to the early civil rights movement, discussing their time leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which laid the groundwork for youth activists in the 1960s; their numerous published writings in periodicals such as Political Affairs; and their editorial involvement in The Worker and the civil rights magazine Freedomways.

Drawing upon a rich collection of correspondence, organizational literature, and interviews with the Jacksons themselves, Haviland follows the couple through the years as they bore witness to economic inequality, war, political oppression, and victory in the face of injustice. Her study reveals a portrait of a remarkable pair who lived during a transformative period of American history and whose story offers a vital narrative of persistence, love, and activism across the long arc of the black freedom movement.

Click for more detail about Appalachian Elegy: Poetry And Place (Kentucky Voices) by bell hooks Appalachian Elegy: Poetry And Place (Kentucky Voices)

by bell hooks
University Press of Kentucky (Aug 16, 2012)
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Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation’s leading intellectuals. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks drew her unique pseudonym from the name of her grandmother, an intelligent and strong-willed African American woman who inspired her to stand up against a dominating and repressive society. Her poetry, novels, memoirs, and children’s books reflect her Appalachian upbringing and feature her struggles with racially integrated schools and unwelcome authority figures. One of Utne Reader’s "100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life," hooks has won wide acclaim from critics and readers alike.

In Appalachian Elegy, bell hooks continues her work as an imagist of life’s harsh realities in a collection of poems inspired by her childhood in the isolated hills and hidden hollows of Kentucky. At once meditative, confessional, and political, this poignant volume draws the reader deep into the experience of living in Appalachia. Touching on such topics as the marginalization of its people and the environmental degradation it has suffered over the years, hooks’s poetry quietly elegizes the slow loss of an identity while also celebrating that which is constant, firmly rooted in a place that is no longer whole.

Click for more detail about The Blue Grass Cook Book by Minnie Fox The Blue Grass Cook Book

by Minnie Fox
University Press of Kentucky (Nov 11, 2005)
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African American cooks were not strangers in the kitchens of the Old South, but white southerners often failed to acknowledge their contributions. One of the first exceptions was Kentucky socialite Minnie C. Fox, who recognized the significant influence and importance of the African American cooks and wrote The Blue Grass Cook Book, first published in 1904.

From biscuits and hams to ice creams and puddings, this cookbook is a collection of over three hundred recipes from family and friends, including black cooks, near Minnie Fox’s Bourbon County, Kentucky, family estate and her Big Stone Gap, Virginia, home. In Fox’s time, the culinary history of black women in the South was usually characterized by demoralizing portraits of servants toiling in ""big house"" kitchens. In contrast, The Blue Grass Cook Book, with its photographs of African American cooks at work and a passionate introduction by Fox’s brother, respected Kentucky novelist John Fox Jr., offers insight into the complex bond between well-to-do mistresses and their cooks at the turn of the century.

Toni Tipton-Martin’s new introduction provides in-depth commentary on the social, cultural, and historical context of this significant cookbook. She presents background information on the Fox family and their apparently uncommon appreciation for the African Americans of their time. She reveals the vital role of the black cooks in the preparation and service required in establishing the well-known Southern hospitality tradition.

You may learn more about this cookbook and other great cook books in Toni Tipton-Martin’s The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks

Click for more detail about Heartwood (New Books For New Readers) by Nikky Finney Heartwood (New Books For New Readers)

by Nikky Finney
University Press of Kentucky (Sep 25, 1997)
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" Deep in the center of every tree, you’ll find the heartwood. The characters in this new book by poet Nikky Finney are the heartwood of their small Kentucky communities. You’ll meet Buck Jones and Mae Bennet, whose anger has twisted them up inside, Queenie Sims and Arizona Scott, who can see the good in people, and Trina Sims and Jenny Bryan, two young women who discover how much they are alike despite their different skin color.

Click for more detail about Fifth Sunday by Rita Dove Fifth Sunday

by Rita Dove
University Press of Kentucky (Jan 01, 1985)
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stories by Pulitzer Prize poet